From the Galactic Archives: Revisiting an Old Friend

I’ve been home alone with McDuff, the canine nugget, for the last week. (Wife and daughter headed to Puerto Rico to work on the house. More Ponce Chronicles to follow, soon.) I gave myself a few days to crash, after they left. I decided to rewatch Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries and travel in time back to the days of writing the novelization. It was fun!

It reminded me that I never got around to posting on my website the essay I wrote for the compendium about BSG, Somewhere Beyond the Heavens. Well, there’s no time like the present!

Here’s how it starts out. Click at the end to read the whole thing.

Writing the 2003 BSG Miniseries Novelization


“So, Jeff, how would you like to write the novelization for Battlestar Galactica?”

That was what my Tor Books editor, Jim Frenkel, asked me, out of the blue, one day in 2005. Until that moment, the thought of writing anything related to Galactica had never crossed my mind.

As it happened, this was the day after I had finished writing the long overdue first draft of my novel Sunborn, a challenging project that had nearly done me in. I had let out an enormous sigh of relief at completing the rough draft. When Jim called me that next day, I assumed it was to find out how things were going with the new book. Instead, he asked if I had seen the new Battlestar Galactica on the Sci-Fi Channel, and if I liked it.

“Well, yes,” I said. And, “Sure, talk to me about it. But you’re aware, right, that I have this unfinished book to finish? That you’re waiting for? I just wrapped up the first draft, by the way.”

“Perfect!” he said. “You need a break. You should do something different for a while, and this is right up your alley. I’m editing the Galactica tie-in books, and I think you’re just the writer to novelize the miniseries. Also, it will be fast. Can you write it in two months?”

“Uhhhh…” My mind raced. I am a notoriously slow writer. Most books take me years to complete. Could I even type a book in two months? I wasn’t sure. I had never written a novelization before; I was used to writing my own stuff. “Can you give me three?” I asked.

I did not start out as a fan of Battlestar Galactica….[more]

For All Battlestar Galactica Fans


Here’s the perfect book for all fans of the multifaceted Battlestar Galactica! Just published, it’s called Somewhere Beyond the Heavens: Exploring Battlestar Galactica, edited by Rich Handley and  Lou Tambone. It’s a large collection of essays about the series in all its incarnations, from the original (let’s admit it) cheesy show to the far more realistic and thoughtful Sci-Fi Channel’s incarnation from 2003.

As it happens, I contributed an essay on how I experienced the show as the writer of the 2003 Miniseries novelization (which you can download here for free), and my editor wrote the story of the licensing and publishing of books in the BSG universe by Tor Books. It’s only just out, so I haven’t dipped into the other pieces yet, but I look forward to doing so soon.

If you’re looking for a gift for that BSG fan in your life, here it is. In paper and Kindle formats.



The Population of Frackville, PA

Alert reader Tim Yordy sent me this hot tip on the residents of a town in Pennsylvania called Frackville. (As far as I know, it’s a real place. But I haven’t checked Snopes.) Here’s what Tim said:

Hey Jeff, given your involvement with Battlestar Galactica, I thought you would enjoy this. Go to the Wikipedia page about Frackville, PA and scroll down to the Demographics section and read the first paragraph.

I did. And you should, too. Read carefully. (Passing familiarity with BSG is required. If you’ve never seen the show, move along. You’re not the droids we’re looking for.)

I wonder if the other residents of Frackville know about this.

Edit: I have learned from alert reader Marco that not only is Frackville real, it is right down the road from Vulcan, PA!

Odyssey Interview

Workshops R Us. A week and a half ago, the advanced novel-writing workshop that I run with Craig Gardner came to an end for this year. It was a seriously good ending, as every one of the six participants is working on material with definite publication potential—some closer to being ready than others, but all good. It was a terrifically encouraging workshop, and I’m especially cheered that the group is going off and continuing to meet and support each other on their own now.

With that done, I’m leaving shortly for a brief stint as instructor-for-a-day at the Odyssey Workshop in New Hampshire, another seriously good program, a much denser and more immersive workshop. I’m going to be working with the participants there on issues of story structure and how plot, conflict, and characterization all play into it.

Odyssey did an online interview with me a while back, and I thought it would be appropriate to reproduce it here, just before I leave. Herewith, the Odyssey interview:

Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?

I guess I would call my writing in college the point at which I was writing seriously—by which I mean, trying to produce real stories that someone might want to read, or even publish. I’d had encouragement at that point from family and teachers, including a college writing teacher who told me he thought my work was publishable. It wasn’t. I didn’t know that yet, but the encouragement helped keep me going as I ever so slowly learned the craft of storytelling. It would be another six years and a file full of rejections before I sold my first short story (to Fiction magazine, in Boston).

If I had realized sooner what I was doing wrong, I might have shortened that learning period considerably. The problem was, I wasn’t telling complete stories. I was going with what people told me were my strengths—description and characterization—and missing the need to tell an interesting story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I didn’t understand about story structure. I was writing mood pieces, story fragments. My teachers weren’t really versed in SF, or even in anything resembling conventional storytelling standards, and they weren’t able to give me the direction I needed. I had no workshop to turn to, and was really writing on my own, with occasional feedback from editors like Terry Carr and Robert Silverberg, who liked my work well enough to at least hint at what they didn’t like, as they returned my stories. It wasn’t until years later that I found a source of good, regular criticism, when I met Craig Gardner and he invited me to join the writing group he was a part of. He and I are still members of that group-thirty years later! And Craig and I now run our own writing workshops in the Boston area.

Why do you think your work began to sell?

I’d learned just enough about putting a story together, and the craft of writing narrative prose, to make it over the bar to become publishable. Little did I know at that point how much more I had to learn—and am still learning! But I think the turning point was realizing, somewhere deep in the subconscious, that I had to bring an interesting character through a conflict and to a resolution of that conflict. I think I had to find a balance between the ambiguity that was interesting to me and the kind of resolution that was satisfying to a reader.

As a science fiction writer, I would imagine you devote a certain amount of time to actual research in order to enhance your stories and their believability. When, in your writing process, do you start researching, and how long does it take? Do you have any tips on making the research process more simple? Any favorite websites you frequent?

The amount of research I need to do varies wildly from one story to the next. Sometimes I do none; sometimes I do a lot. When I say none, of course, I’m sort of lying; all of life is research for my writing. All my human interactions, all my experiences as a kid and as a parent, as a loner and as a husband, come to bear on my characters. All my reading, much of it in areas of science and public affairs, influences my stories. Though I didn’t major in science, I’ve always been a science junkie, and my general knowledge of science has been important to my ability to tell stories with scientific plausibility. For particular stories, I’ve done targeted research: nanotechnology, cosmic strings, and supernovas for From a Changeling Star; chaos theory and the Voyager spacecraft findings about Neptune and Triton for Neptune Crossing; tachyons for The Infinity Link; stellar nurseries and stellar evolution for Sunborn. For The Infinite Sea, I drew heavily on my experience as a scuba diver and the knowledge I’d gained from that, years before.

I do the research when I realize I need to. That sometimes happens early, sometimes late in the process. My biggest “Oops!” in research was waiting to do some of the supernova research for From a Changeling Star until I was nearly finished. (Stupid, stupid.) I had consulted with an astronomer friend, but hadn’t taken his advice to check with his friend, who was a supernova specialist. When I finally did, I learned that I’d gotten some important things wrong. So while my editor was tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for the manuscript, I was busily rebuilding certain key points in the book, getting it right. (I knew that not one reader in a thousand would know the difference. But now that I knew the difference, I had to fix it.) It didn’t help that it was an amnesia story as well, and some of these key points were being revealed gradually through the story, so I had to change not just one place, but many places. My advice: Don’t do that.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the NASA-sponsored Launchpad Astronomy Workshop in Wyoming. This is an annual, week-long intensive astronomy course tailored for writers, and covers everything from the basics up through cutting-edge research. A great experience, and one I highly recommend for pro or near-pro writers.

The website I most frequent is Google. Okay, I guess that’s not very helpful. I do check Astronomy Picture of the Day every day. And I get the New Scientist and Discover e-newsletters, which send me down some interesting paths. (I also subscribe to those magazines, as well as to Astronomy, The Atlantic, and the New Yorker.) Mostly, though, I just follow my nose when something looks interesting. I also sometimes, when I need to know something about a subject, find an expert and ask. Very helpful, that.

What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

Finding time and concentration to write, the same as (I’ll bet) for many of your students. It hasn’t gotten any easier over the years. Being a parent and needing to earn income in other ways have, at times, had to take priority over the writing. That’s just life, and I’m not as good at time-sharing my mental and creative work as some people are. How do I cope? I keep at it, and don’t give up (even when I want to). In the actual creative process, I seem to keep taking on story ideas that are more and more ambitious, and more difficult to pull off. This is probably a good thing artistically, and always feels rewarding in the end. But it doesn’t always feel good when I’m in the middle of it!

For me, the hardest part is getting a first draft down. Once I have the clay in my hands, so to speak, I find it much easier to work at reshaping it.

Your 2008 release, SUNBORN, is the fourth book of your CHAOS CHRONICLES series. The first book of this series, NEPTUNE CROSSING, came out in 1995 and is unfortunately out of print. Can you talk about what it’s like to write a series that spans such a great length of time, in publishing terms?

In publishing and marketing terms, what I did with the Chaos books was sheer idiocy. The long gap between the first three books and Sunborn resulted from my taking time out to write Eternity’s End, set in my Star Rigger universe. That book proved really hard to write and took something like six years to finish. It was well received, and got me a Nebula nomination; but the problem coming out of it was that the Chaos trail had grown cold by the time I got back to book four. My outlines no longer made much sense to me, and it took a long time to rebuild momentum. In addition, with Sunborn, I was tackling what turned out to be an extraordinarily difficult narrative challenge: telling a story of cosmic-scale events, but keeping it personal and immediate on the human level. I hope I succeeded, but not without heading down many a wrong path in the process. Still, once I had the initial draft done, I felt for the first time that I knew what I was doing, and I could tackle the rewrite with a clearer sense of the story.

By pure coincidence, the day after I finished the first draft of Sunborn, my editor called and asked me if I’d like to write a novelization of Battlestar Galactica (the miniseries). That was something I was required to do fast, but it was fun and a welcome change of pace. I was retelling someone else’s story, so I was able to use other parts of my brain to focus purely on the craft. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Once Sunborn was done, another year or two down the road, the book was scheduled for publication—and then delayed yet another year for reasons internal to the publishing process. That was pretty frakking hard to take, but it did give me an opportunity to revise some sections after having some months away from the book.

So, there I was, with Book 4 of an out-of-print series scheduled for publication. Tricky, from a marketing viewpoint. (I try to avoid the word “suicidal.”) I knew I needed to do something to renew audience interest in the series—and to try to bring new readers to it. Creating a national scandal might have been a good choice—but I’m not a very scandalous person. So I went with Plan B, which was to release all the earlier books in ebook format, for free download from my website. (You can download them right now, in fact, at The results were immensely gratifying. I got many emails from readers who said this was the first they’d heard of me, and now they were looking for my other books, as well. So it definitely increased interest in the series. Did it boost sales of the hardcover book? Damned it I know. (Well, I’m sure it did, but I haven’t a clue as to how much.)

Do you write each installment to be read as a stand-alone, or is each book in the series interconnected, so knowledge of previous volumes is necessary to understand the current one? Do you have any advice for writers working on multiple-book series of their own, and would you handle your own series any differently now than when you first started?

The story is a continuing arc, but each volume is a self-contained story that comes to a conclusion—and sets the stage for the next. I worked hard to build enough recap into the early parts of the stories that someone could pick up any book and enjoy it. But no question, the best way to read the series is from the beginning.

Advice to others? Don’t do what I did! (That’s my advice for investing in the stock market, too. Watch what I do. Then do something different.) I’m only partly serious, of course, but that part is sincere. I think where I went wrong was thinking that I could write a series of short, snappy novels that cumulatively would form a long, complex story. (This, you see, is what I always seem to do—write long, complex stories. I was trying to find a way to do it in a more sustainable way.) Then each Chaos book turned out a little longer than the one before, and soon I was writing a series of long, complex stories. People seem to like them. I’m proud of having written them. But making me independently wealthy, they’re not. 🙂

Your work is known for strong characterization and internal conflict. How do you use that internal conflict to create a character arc for the whole novel? Do you plan it out in advance, or do you discover it as you write? And how do you tie your characters’ internal conflict with the external conflict of the larger story?

Well, geez, if I tell you that now, what am I going to talk about when I get to the workshop?! I’ll tell you this much: I always have some vision for the overall story and character arc before I start writing. But much of it, I discover as I write. I seem to require the tension of being in the middle of the story to draw the full understanding of the character conflict out of my subconscious. I’m a very intuitive writer. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing until I’ve done it. There are people who can do all of that before setting down a word of the story. I hates them! (Preciousss…)

As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

To quote the captain in the movie Galaxy Quest: “Never surrender! Never give up!” Or was it the other way around? Anyway, that’s the approach you have to take in writing. It can be terribly frustrating and discouraging when you can’t seem to get it right, or you think you’ve gotten it right and then a reader tells you, no, it’s actually still just warmed over beetle-dung, and you want to throw it all in the river. That’s when you have to remember those words. Not to shout in defense of what you’ve written, but to take a deep breath and keep at it until you do, finally, get it right.

Oh, and try to write something you would want to read yourself.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

I am currently doing battle with the first draft of the fifth book of The Chaos Chronicles, tentatively titled, The Reefs of Time. Damn if I didn’t once more set myself some challenges that I don’t yet know the solution to. Why do I keep doing this?

I’m also working on getting all of my backlist into “print” as ebooks.

And I’m just finishing a short video piece for an arts festival sponsored by a local church: an audio visualization—for lack of a better term—of the fairly cosmic prologue to Sunborn. I hope to have that up for online viewing in a few weeks. I’ll put a link on my downloads page once it’s available. It’s 3 minutes long, and I think it’s pretty cool. Stop by and check it out! [Update: I’m still waiting for a few final changes by the guy who did much of the video editing. Soon.]

“If you wish to be a writer, write.” —Epictetus

What Do West Wing and BSG Have in Common?

I wrote this days ago, and then forgot to post it! Ah, me. I got busy picking up my daughter from college, and one thing led to another, and here we are. In the U.S., it’s Memorial Day, a time to remember with gratitude those who have fallen in defense of our nation. Maybe that’s not such a bad occasion to offer some reflections on Battlestar Galactica, whose fictional crew sacrificed much in the defense of humanity.

As we all know, BSG ended recently, and my comments on that (which I posted earlier on another website) will follow in a moment. But lately my family and I have been watching another favorite show, The West Wing, from the beginning. (I picked up the complete DVD set for a relative song on ebay.) I’ve been vividly struck by two things these shows have in common:

1. Edward James Olmos! I had seen him before, as Judge Mendoza, but had not recognized the actor. Prior to BSG, I wasn’t all that aware of Olmos, although I realize now that he’s been in a lot of great stuff, including the movie Blade Runner (where, as in BSG, they talked about “skin jobs”).

2. Brilliant writing of human drama and engaging dialogue, coupled with a thundering inability to write anything about science. In West Wing, if I feel any reference to science coming on, I steel myself to groan. I know I will. Perfect example: In one episode, Sam is concerned about a UFO that’s been tracked for several hours from Hawaii to the American coast. It turns out to be harmless—a Russian rocket booster that (paraphrased from memory) “failed to achieve a high enough velocity to escape Earth’s gravity.” That’s just stupid on so many levels. But let’s start with the fact that a reentering booster would burn up in a matter of minutes, not hours, and that the tracking people would know exactly what it was the whole time. In the commentary below, I mention a similar lapse in credibility from BSG. The thing is, the writing on both shows was so terrific otherwise that I was completely willing to forgive these lapses. It’s funny, because I would never overlook that kind of dunderheadedness if I were reading a work of hard science fiction. That must say something about the importance of expectations as a viewer or reader.

Here’s my BSG commentary, reprinted from SF Signal’s Mind Meld:

Much has been written about the end of our beloved Battlestar Galactica. I avoided reading most of it until recently, because I hadn’t seen the ending and didn’t want any spoilers. (Yes, I wrote the miniseries novelization, and at the time was given access to a limited amount of insider background informationthough not enough to keep me from writing a few things that shortly became “noncanonical.” But I had no more idea than you did where the story was going in the end.) A couple of weeks ago, I finally watched the last few episodes in one long burst.

Whoa. Not altogether what I’d hoped for—but powerful stuff nonetheless.

My reactions were intense and complex. On the one hand, it was a stunningly choreographed conclusion, breathlessly paced, and to me at least satisfying in the sense that we finally found resolution, and our characters, battered and bruised, finally found a measure of peace. Even Kara. Yes, even Kara Thrace, Starbuck. The change of tone at the very end was perhaps a bit overdone. But I felt our people had earned it.

That they found and settled the world known to us as “Earth” came, of course, as no surprise. Most of us, I think, had been expecting an Adam and Eve story (or should I say, Adama and Eve) all along. How could it have been different? It seemed built into the very fiber of the series, from the start. And while the “Adam and Eve” story is perhaps one of the most clichéd ideas in all of science fiction, there is no reason that even a clichéd story cannot be retold in a fresh and engaging way. So I had long ago decided to forgive that point, granting that if the BSG people could tell it in a sufficiently original way, I wouldn’t quibble.

So, did they or didn’t they? Well…yes and no.

Plausibility-wise, the notion that the fleet would agree to transport all of the people down to a wilderness planet, equipped only with what they could carry, give or take a few Raptors, and send the rest of their considerable technology into the sun, was absurd. Suspension of disbelief—come back! What else can I say about that? Except it was probably considered necessary to the plot not to have too much star technology lying around to be unearthed by latter-day Indiana Joneses.

But BSG has never been about plausibility in the scientific or technological sense. Do we all remember back in—Season 3, was it?—when the fleet had to fly through an exploding star, instead of…um, going around it? And does anyone believe that after all this time, they would have left the fleet dependent on just one Tylium ship to supply the needs of everyone? Okay, forget scientific plausibility. It was never there to be an issue. When I wrote the miniseries novelization, this was something I encountered in a multitude of small ways, and I did my best to strengthen plausibility where it felt thin. But this BSG has always been about other things, anyway—humanity at war with its own worst elements, and the dark places of the soul where people find the strength to endure, and to fight back. For all of its edges, it was never hard SF; it was pure human-drama SF, and every time it careened near the edge of a cliff even in those terms, it always somehow staggered back.

So forget the scientific plausibility part. What about the angels? Starbuck—an angel? That seemed to stick in a lot of craws, including my wife’s and daughter’s, mainly because it seemed from out of left field, and not terribly…well, plausible. For one thing, how come Starbuck was a solid, hard-drinkin’, kick-your-ass physical kind of angel, while the Six and Baltar angels were purely will o’ the wisps, here this minute, gone the next, visible to no one else? And why did Starbuck have to go through such torment, trying to discover who she was? Is she the only angel who doesn’t know she’s an angel? I grant all of those quarrels. And yet—despite my qualms, I kind of liked it. For one thing, how many real SF shows have ever been willing even to entertain the notion of there actually being a God (even if he doesn’t like to be called that, says Baltar), or heavenly or spiritual beings? BSG had the nerve to do that, and do it baldly, in midst of a gritty human drama. Did they do it successfully? Certainly not all the time, and probably not at the very end. But my hat’s off to them for trying.

Having written a BSG book in which I was invited to make up answers to some questions that the producers couldn’t, at that point, answer for me, I was perhaps a little oversensitive to certain small points in the conclusion. One that comes to mind is Caprica Six, who had no name in the miniseries. I called her Natasi in my novel (and no, I didn’t notice that Natasi was “I Satan” backwards until a reader pointed it out). That seemed fine with the BSG staff at the time. Later, David Eick was quoted as saying that he’d imagined that Baltar never knew Six’s name, even as he carried on a torrid affair with her. Truthfully, I never found that believable. Then we saw it happening, in the final chapter, and I went, “Gah!” You win some and you lose some.

I will defend the writers against charges of racism stemming from the interpretation that the fleet personnel obviously subjugated and lorded it over the indigenous population, right up through the present day. What (goes the argument) about the African origins of humanity, which present-day evidence strongly supports? Well, as I read the ending, fleet personnel gradually intermingled with the native population, as their remaining technology wore out or failed, and thus 21st Century humanity is very much a blend of the native and immigrant forms of human. So Lucy and Eve and all of our other forebears are still very much a part of the picture. As for the Cylon blood—well, I guess there’s a little bit of that in our DNA now. Somewhere along the way, we lost the glowing spines, though. Tough break, that.

But now we know: “All Along the Watchtower” is in our racial memory. It just took Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix to give it back to us.

(Check out other authors’ comments on the earlier Mind Meld page.)

Thoughts on the Conclusion of BSG

A couple of months ago, SFSignal invited me to contribute my views on the finale of Battlestar Galactica to a special they were running in their Mind Meld section. I couldn’t at the time, because I hadn’t seen the ending. But a few weeks ago, I finally got a chance to watch the last three or four episodes, all in one go. And yesterday, I grabbed a little time to put together my thoughts. They’re online now at Let me know what you think!

“Fear not the future, weep not for the past.” —Percy Bysshe Shelley

What’s Hard About Being a Writer?

SFSignal, from time to time, asks the same question of a bunch of writers and puts their answers together in an interesting post called MindMeld. They’ve done it again this week, and the question—posed to me, among others—was What’s the most difficult part of being a writer? (That link will take you to all the answers.)

Here’s what I said (but do go look at the others, because they’re interesting):

What’s the hardest thing about being a writer? That’s easy: Writing. Doing it, not talking about it. Not thinking about it or procrastinating to avoid doing it. Not checking the email for writing-related messages (hah). Just doing it. Putting. The words. On. The page. Damn, it’s hard sometimes. A lot of the time. Most of the time. Okay, nearly all the time. Microsoft’s patented Blue Screen of Death can’t hold a candle to the dread induced by the White Screen of No Words on the Page.

I’m not talking about writing in general, but writing a work of fiction. Creating a story out of whole cloth and telling it in words that make the reader want to come back for more. Okay, I’m not even talking about that last part—that comes more in the rewriting phase, which for me is easier. I’m talking about, Who is this character, really, and why is she angry, or scared, or passionate? I’m talking about, What comes next—and why is it interesting or unexpected or inevitable? Why should anyone care?

I got some interesting insight into the different creative tensions in writing a couple of years ago, when I was asked to write a novelization of Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. I had just finished a first draft of my novel Sunborn, which for a variety of reasons had been a years-long struggle. The novelization had to be done quickly. But I had a DVD of the miniseries (it had already aired), and I had a shooting script (different in many respects from the final edit). The story was there. The characters were there. I couldn’t change them, and didn’t want to change them. But I had to bring them to life. I had to add dimension and depth where I could, and I had to make scenes make sense that were fine on-screen, whizzing by at the speed of TV, but that on closer examination had issues. It was a writing challenge of a particular kind, and I enjoyed it immensely. But it was a very different experience from writing my own books.

What it was, I think, was that my story-imagining lobes were given a break, while my story-crafting and writing-craft lobes did the heavy lifting for a while. I worked hard, while at the same time, part of my brain was vacationing! And afterward, I came back to the rewrite on Sunborn with better clarity and more energy. Based on feedback from readers so far, I think I did good.

Guess what I’m doing now. That’s right, I’m first-drafting a new novel. Blank White Screen of No Words on the Page. Damn, that’s hard.

By the way, for those of you who might not be regular readers of Pushing a Snake, the book I’m working on now is the fifth volume of The Chaos Chronicles: The Reefs of Time. (Will John Bandicut and Julie Stone find each other again on Shipworld?… and other questions, to be answered.)

Do Free Downloads Sell Books?

This, of course, is the question that many authors want the answer to (and also blog-reader Tim, in a comment to my last post). If you believe the Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi school, the answer is clearly yes; others remain skeptical. Publishers range from scared to enthusiastic.

For me, this is an ongoing experiment. The first part was a no-brainer: the first three Chaos Chronicles books were out of print, so it was unquestionably better to get them in front of readers and get them interested in the series. For that part of the experiment, the results are an unqualified—but also unquantified—success. There have been about 15,000 downloads of those books from my own site, with more from feedbooks, manybooks, mobileread, and now the Baen Free Library. Many people have written me, saying they tried my work for the first time with those freebies and liked what they found. Some of them said it prompted them to go out and buy a copy of Sunborn in hardcover. Hurray!

But wait just a minute. How many extra copies of Sunborn did it sell? Three? Three hundred? How many sales did I lose because I put it up for free in PDF? Truth: I don’t know. In the first place, it’s not like I actually get detailed information about sales; this remains one of the dark sides of publishing, the dearth of actual data coming back to the writer. (Sure, eventually I’ll see totals on a royalty sheet. But that can take years.) Just as important, though, is a question that no one can answer: how many would I have sold without the free downloads. The series was out of the public eye for years. I was out of the public eye for years. I have no doubt the sales picture could have been grim. As it is, from what I’m told, Sunborn is selling at least as well as its predecessor in the stores, Eternity’s End. (BSG is a side trip, and doesn’t really count.)

So what do the publishers make of all this? Well, Tor and Baen both seem to embrace the notion of giving books away as a means to selling more. Tor has had free download promotions from time to time, and Baen has their ongoing free library. On the other hand, I recently had an email exchange with a fellow writer whose new book is on the Nebula preliminary ballot. His publisher was reluctant to let him send out an electronic reading copy or to put a PDF up even on the members only SFWA site, for fear I guess of piracy. This, to me, makes no sense. If a book is published, chances are it’ll be up on the darknet regardless. Better to get people reading it and talking about it.

Tim mentioned the music and film industries as examples of reluctance. The thing is, they’re coming around. Amazon offers free MP3 music downloads. Itunes has a free song of the week. The networks put their TV shows up on the web for free. (That’s how I’m catching up on Chuck, which I missed in favor of Sarah Connor Chronicles, back when they were on at the same time. And that’s even how I’m seeing Battlestar Galactica—on Free On Demand!) And web comics—free. What that may imply for a business model for earning an income from writing is a much bigger question—a topic for another post, maybe.

Bottom line for me: I can’t guarantee that my books will sell better because I’m offering them for free download. The truth is, I may never know. But I don’t think I’m hurting sales, and right now, the enemy with the name Obscurity written on its back is a far bigger threat to me than the chance that some people are reading my books for free.

And wasn’t the hope that people would read my books the reason I wrote them in the first place?

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.” —Isaac Asimov

Free BSG Download and Other News

With Battlestar Galactica now in the final stretch of its glorious and slightly insane odyssey, I asked for and received permission to put my novelization of the miniseries, titled—wouldn’t you know it—Battlestar Galactica, up for free download on my web site. And so I have, and there you can get it for your reading pleasure. I’ve got it in PDF and EPUB formats. The Mobipocket version is on sale in the Kindle store. Naturally, I hope a few of you might be inspired to buy the paper book, still available here and there. But mostly I just wanted to share the fun.

In other download news, the first three books of The Chaos Chronicles have just gone up for download in the Baen Free Library. (If you already have the Chaos books from my web site, there’s no reason to redownload; they’re the same book files, copied over with my permission.) If you don’t know the Baen Free Library, it’s a wonderful resource to help people get a taste of work by authors they might not know, in ebook form—and it’s got a lot of great classic SF by people like Andre Norton and James Schmitz. Check it out.

Meanwhile, I’m now proofing the text for the ebook version of Seas of Ernathe, my very first novel. There’s a trip down (fading) memory lane! That writer kid, he has promise, I think.

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